Reading Too Much Into Sarah Palin's Speech Style

There’s no ‘there’ there.

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By Scott Galupo, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Via Andrew Sullivan, I see the linguist John McWhorter, blogging at The New Republic, has tried gamely to deconstruct the speech patterns of Sarah Palin:

What truly distinguishes Palin's speech is its utter subjectivity: that is, she speaks very much from the inside of her head, as someone watching the issues from a considerable distance. The there fetish, for instance—Palin frequently displaces statements with an appended "there," as in "We realize that more and more Americans are starting to see the light there..." But where? Why the distancing gesture? At another time, she referred to Condoleezza Rice trying to "forge that peace." That peace? You mean that peace way over there—as opposed to the peace that you as Vice-President would have been responsible for forging? She's far, far away from that peace.

Oh, come off it. I'm no fan of Sarah Palin; I wouldn't want her running my son's preschool, let alone the country. But this is a bit much. I've heard her employ the "there" fetish when she was talking about her years as a college student. "There" and "that" are her filler words, no different than the "um" and "like" of teenagers or the plaintive "just" of extemporaneous Protestant prayer (as in, "Father, if you would just heal his sickness...")

McWhorter, to be fair, does admit of this possibility, but can't leave it at that.

It seems to me that McWhorter's rather strained analysis is the anti-Palin equivalent of Camille Paglia's preposterous excuse for Palin's solecisms: "She uses language with the jumps, breaks and rippling momentum of a be-bop saxophonist." Right. That's what immediately jumps to mind when you think of Sarah Palin: bebop jazz. As I said at my old Washington Times blog—Charlie Parker, you are now free to get up and move about your grave.

The McWhorter/Paglia divergence just goes to show, as if we needed more proof, that Sarah Palin provokes extreme reactions—even, or maybe especially, in the rarefied realm of linguistics.

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